Best parks in Tampa Bay

It’s December in Florida and the weather has been amazing - less humidity and slightly cooler temperatures. It is a great time to get out and explore some of the amazing parks in Tampa Bay.

Here are 5 parks that we love to explore.

Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park, New Port Richey

This Pasco County park has a little bit of everything: wildlife, walking trails, equestrian and picnic areas. The park connects to the 42-mile paved Suncoast Trail via the 7.5-mile paved trail. There are an additional 12.6 miles of marked walking trails. The park is located on western section of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, developed by local chapter of Audubon Society. Nearly 150 species of birds have been identified in park.

It is one of the few equestrian-friendly parks in the area. There are 7.5 miles of marked equestrian trails and a corral and watering trough located in equestrian parking area. Riders are required to stay on marked trails.

There are campsites available via reservation and including primitive, backcountry and group sites. Equestrian camping is available at some sites.

Hillsborough River State Park, Thonotosassa

Beautiful park along the river, which has Class 2 rapids, a rarity in Florida. There is a canoe launch (canoe rentals available), camping area, picnic areas and more. There are more than 7 miles of hiking trails in the park with trails leading through a dense hammock forest with changing elevations. There even a suspension bridge along the river.

Lettuce Lake Park, Tampa

Beautiful wooden boardwalk through the Florida swamp where you’ll likely see birds, alligators and more. There an elevated platform on the river for birds-eye views. There are miles of hiking and biking trails, kayak or canoe rentals and guided nature tours on weekends.

Morris Bridge Park, Thonotosassa

Another beautiful park along the Hillsborough River. Wildlife abounds with frequent sightings of alligators, turtles and birds along the boardwalk. The extensive Wilderness Trail allows off-road bicyclists to access trails at Flatwoods and Trout Creek conservation parks. Trail runners and hikers enjoy the Wilderness Park Off Road Trails System through the park. There are along fishing areas along the river including 2 covered shelters. Boat ramp, canoe launch (and Hillsborough River Canoe Trail through native cypress trees), boat dock and trailer parking (fee) on the north side of park.

Weedon Island Preserve, St. Pete

An expansive 3,190-acre natural area located on Tampa Bay. This coastal park has aquatic and upland ecosystems and is home to numerous species of native plants and animals. There are miles of trails available for walking. Bicycling is not allowed.

There are two miles of handicap-accessible boardwalks and pavement, providing viewing opportunities over saltwater ponds, which are often teeming with mullet and wading birds. The paved portion connecting the two boardwalk loops passes by the Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center. There is also a 45-foot observation tower. On a clear day, this tower provides visitors with an excellent view of the preserve as well as Tampa Bay and the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa.

There is limited freshwater fishing available along Anclote and Pithlachascotee rivers as well as 5 picnic shelters with grills and 2 large fee-rental pavilions with a large grill, running water and electricity.

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